Portrush & Causeway Coast
A Land of Legends
Inspired by The Open’s return to Portrush, your next great golf escape really should take you along Ireland’s majestic Causeway Coast – and its four Golf World Top 100 Golf Courses: Ireland layouts.
A stretch of wild, dramatic coast of little more than five miles, Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast is one of the most magical stretches of land on earth. A land of wild clifftop paths, landscapes straight out of Game of Thrones, historic distilleries and cosy pubs, there is much to beguile you even before you factor in the golf options. And what options they are.
Ahead of the 148th Open Championship, Royal Portrush is hogging all the headlines right now, but it is in very good company as just one of four world-class links along that coast that made it into our most recent Top 100 Courses Ireland ranking.
To the Dunluce at Portrush, add its sister Dunes course, plus Portstewart’s Strand and Castlerock. Book in at the coast’s finest B&B, set aside time to see the spectacular local landmarks and scenery, and pack your clubs. You now have everything in place for the trip of a lifetime...
When the dust finally settles and The Open stands are back in storage, join the queue to experience Royal Portrush for yourself. You will not be disappointed. Originally a nine-holer when it was formed in 1888, it was not until Harry Colt’s 1929 revamp that the Dunluce’s reputation soared. Ranked No.7 in our most recent GB&I listing, Colt’s creation is a thoroughbred, an all-rounder that combines the breath-taking beauty that comes with such an edge-of-the-land site with a varied and strategic challenge.
On the front nine, the short, dog-leg 5th is one of the best sporty two-shotters you’ll have the pleasure of making a mess of. The view walking down the fairway – its green framed by the water, with Dunluce Castle beyond – is magnificent, while the new holes at 7 and 8, masterfully reworked by Martin Ebert, are superb, particularly the 7th, a meandering three-shotter of a par 5 that plays 592-yards from the back tee. Coming soon after the short but dramatic par-4 5th, playing directly towards the ocean, it’s a stretch of holes that few courses in the world can match.
And if the middle of the course fails to hit such heights, particularly as you veer from the coast to the middle of the property, that merely allows the numerous standout holes to breathe and flourish. One such standout is the 16th, ‘Calamity Corner’, a fearsome par 3, Portrush’s most famous hole. Playing at 236 yards during the Open, for us mere mortals the daily tees of around 200 yards are quite sufficient from which to clear the deep chasm of rough and bushes between tee and green. It is preceded and followed by magisterial par 4s and Portrush now has a climax that has very few peers. And upon conclusion, retire to the clubhouse to drink in a pint of the black stuff and reflect on the round of your life.
Green fee: £220
Portstewart Golf Club
Five miles west of Portrush and to the east of the River Bann stands the much-loved and must-play Portstewart GC, founded in 1894. Home to three courses, the Old, the Riverside and the Strand, the pick of them is undoubtedly the latter, a sleeping giant of a course that can be mentioned in the same breath as Royals Portrush and County Down. Created by Willie Park Jr, with help from a higher power, it winds along rolling fairways and between vast sprawling bunkers, run off bunkers and tricky greens doing their best to lure you into trouble.
Expect everything you’ve heard about Portstewart’s front nine to ring true. Holes routinely wind between huge dunes that take the breath away. Imagine the best hole you’ve ever played through sand dunes and then multiply it by nine, and you have Portstewart’s outward half. If that quality was maintained on the back nine it could be a GB&I top-20 course but the land is much flatter, with the River Bann hemming it in as the sea does to the front nine. If the back nine lacks the drama of the front, it at least gives you chance to draw breath and reflect on all that has gone before.
Green Fee: £175
Castlerock Golf Club
Less revered than Portrush and Portstewart, Castlerock’s Mussenden Links remain a very worthy third leg of any tour. Located 12 miles east of Portrush, this is a rugged, slightly rough-around-the-edges links affair, reminiscent of a time when sheep kept the fairways in check. Castlerock began life as a nine-holer in 1901 before being extended by feted Scottish clubmaker Ben Sayers seven years later. Around the time of his celebrated work at Portrush, Harry Colt found time to fine-tune Mussenden’s Links.
Martin Hawtree has made more recent alterations but the overriding feel is of a course created and shaped by Mother Nature. The results are impressive, placing the Links 30th in our Top 100 Courses Ireland. “A powerful, breath-taking links that will get better as Martin Hawtree’s enhancements kick in,” we noted.
Expect significant dunes to shape your round and when you emerge from those towering sand hills you catch views of Donegal and, on a clear day, towards Scotland and Islay. The green complexes are tricky but not tricked-up, none of the holes feel long for the sake of it, and you’re left to take in the best views for yourself, rather than having them thrust upon you. After a genteel opening, the Mussenden Links’ topography and views improve as you progress through the front nine, dramatic dunes replacing the flatter terrain found in the first half a dozen holes.
It’s 6,805 yards from the back tee, 6,481 from the whites, but feels shorter, perhaps thanks to five par 5s, three of which are less than 500 yards. This is a course to plot your way around, to make smart decisions off every tee. Players capable of shaping the ball on demand will appreciate the scarcity of straight holes, enjoying the challenge of working with the mounds and swales, rather than fighting them. Navigate the inward nine without playing a shot balanced like a mountain goat and you’ll have done very well.Dramatic duneland flanks the majority of holes, meaning you’ll want to keep it on the cut grass or be ready to have your legs and kickstand tested.
Green Fee: £100
If time allows, add on a round on Royal Portrush’s Valley course, created by Harry Colt but reworked by Martin Ebert during the upgrade of the Dunluce. A second course it may be, but the quality remains impressively high. More enclosed than its more celebrated sister, the Valley plays on tumbling terrain with the holes cut between huge sand dunes, blocking out the sea and offering shelter. And then comes the finale.
“Some felt the course would suffer after losing land to the refurb of its big sister,” we noted, “but a revamped close makes up for it.” Ebert’s work in reorganising the holes is magnificent. The 15th is a dramatic downhill par 3 across the site, the old 17th is now a dog-leg par 5 to become the 16th and 17 is a restored old hole with new tees but an original green. The last is absolutely not least: a new par 4 that begins with a stupendous ocean view and ends outside the Valley’s clubhouse (away from Royal Portrush’s clubhouse), which the Rathmore Golf Club – where Graeme McDowell was a member – uses as its base.
A second course but not always a second choice.
Green Fee: £50
Five Things To Do In The Area
1. Old Bushmills Distillery
The old in that title is justified. Bushmills is the oldest distillery in the world, having been granted its licence by King James in 1608. Take a tour and you’ll be led through the whole process, plus offered a very welcome tasting at the end.
2. Explore The Coastal Paths
Blessed with sufficient time and energy, it’s possible – and very worthwhile – to take the Causeway Coast Way all the way from Portstewart to Ballycastle. A two- to three-day trail along low-lying coastal paths that regularly takes your breath away, shorter chunks are also an option.
3. Dunluce Castle
Once the coastal domain of the MacQuillan clan, Dunluce Castle came under the control of notorious warrior chieftain Sorley Boy MacDonnell in the 1550s, ushering in an era of violence. The castle became an iconic ruin, perched precariously on the craggy coast.
4. The Giant’s Causeway
If nothing else, make time to witness one of the great natural wonders of the world. According to legend, the 37,000 basalt columns that form Giant’s Causeway were created by a Scottish giant to fight local hero Finn McCool, although scientists believe it was the result of a massive subterranean explosion 60 million years ago. Either way, don’t leave here without witnessing it.
5. Cross the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
A slender rope bridge 100m high and stretched across the Atlantic may not sound like fun, but the Carrick-a-Rede was erected by fishermen 350 years ago and is now one of Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions.